Tronc Inc.’s two largest shareholders have been actively increasing their stakes in the Los Angeles Times parent, a month after Gannett Co.’s attempted acquisition fell apart.

While Michael Ferro, tronc’s chairman and largest shareholder, purchased an additional 42,126 shares, a more interesting series of purchases came from Patrick Soon-Shiong.

Soon-Shiong, who was brought into the company by Ferro this summer and took a $70 million stake to become its second-largest shareholder, added steadily to his holdings throughout November, including more than 84,000 shares at prices of $12.90 and $12.94 on Nov. 23, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The acquisitions bring his stake to more than 5.6 million shares, according to data from Bloomberg, giving the multibillionaire biotech researcher a roughly 15.5 percent stake in tronc.

The most recent acquisitions come less than a week after Soon-Shiong, who with a net worth estimated at $15.4 billion is the wealthiest person in Los Angeles, acquired nearly 65,000 shares in purchases on Nov. 16, 17, and 18 at prices of $12.85 and $12.75.

Ferro still controls about 800,000 more shares than Soon-Shiong, tronc’s vice chairman. And unless Soon-Shiong makes a big, dramatic move, it is likely that Ferro will continue to control the company’s destiny, and with it the future of the Times.

Though there has been much speculation that Soon-Shiong wants to buy the paper, he has remained mum on the matter as of late.

Representatives for Soon-Shiong and Ferro declined to comment on the purchases.

Tronc shares fell slightly on Dec. 1 to close at $12.78.

‘Ballers’ Bounces to L.A.

HBO’s “Ballers” will move production for its third season to Los Angeles from Miami, according Amy Lemisch, executive director of the California Film Commission.

“Ballers” is the seventh series to be drawn to the state by an expanded tax credit program, which went into effect last year. The show is scheduled to shoot its next 10 episodes in the L.A. area, where it will employ 135 cast members, 209 base crew, and 5,700 extras. Production will generate an estimated $33.5 million in “qualified expenditures,” which the commission defines as wages paid to below-the-line crew, and payments to in-state vendors. Based on those figures, “Ballers” has been conditionally approved for a tax credit reservation of $8.3 million.

“In evaluating the production resources and (the show’s) evolving storylines, the producers have decided to relocate the base of production to California,” an HBO spokeswoman said in a statement.

California’s film and television production incentives total $330 million annually and are aimed at retaining and attracting production jobs and economic activity across the state. Six other TV shows have relocated to California as part of the program, including FX’s “American Horror Story,” Fox’s “Scream Queens,” HBO’s “Veep,” and ABC’s “American Crime.”

“We’re able to match a lot of different locales,” said Lemisch of shooting in Los Angeles. “If we level the playing field with a tax incentive, we tend to be the first choice. From the large quantities of skilled crew members to the availability of equipment, there’s an ease to working here. It’s a much smoother way to run a production.”

A total of 22 TV projects in various stages of production are currently in the tax credit program.

Musical Chairs

Local radio station KFWB-AM (980) has been sold for the second time – and changed formats for the third time – in less than a year. Lotus Communications Corp., owner and operator of 34 radio stations in various markets, purchased KFWB for $11.2 million from Universal Media Access in October. The station officially launched its ranchero music format last week, while the transfer of ownership with the Federal Communications Commission will not take place until March.

The deal offers Lotus synergies with its flagship Spanish-speaking sports station, ESPN Deportes KWKW-AM (1330), said Senior Vice President Jim Kalmenson.

“It’s a return to roots for us,” he said. “KWKW is the only Spanish-speaking sports station here in Los Angeles, and we wanted to reach out to first-generation Hispanics – as opposed to assimilated second-generation listeners.”

Kalmenson said the traditional ranchero music format is popular with listeners and advertisers.

“This consumer is very loyal to the format,” he said. “They listen for a long time and tend to be responsive to advertisers. It isn’t just background music.”

The purchase price, said Kalmenson, represents a market multiple of seven to 10 times the station’s potential annual earnings. However, the main draw for Lotus was its strong signal and coverage area. Efficiencies from existing infrastructure from its sister stations, KWKW-AM (1330) and KIRN-AM (670), also helped seal the deal. Kalmenson said the company would hire two additional employees for its sales team as well as another 10 on-air staffers.

Staff reporter Kristin Marguerite Doidge can be reached at kdoidge@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 226.

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